Andrew Cooper’s idea of a good time is plunging his whitewater kayak over 20-foot waterfalls. “I have the motivation to test myself and see how far I can go,” says the 28-year-old New Harbor, ME native, who has been working at Maine Sport in the Watersports Department since May, 2009. “Every time I’m out there, I feel the need to push myself, “Cooper says, “but I don’t want to be irrational.” Though it’s tough for him to do, Cooper will not run a rapid if he doesn’t feel mentally and physically prepared. “I’m glad I have the capacity not to do something. There is something going through my brain other than just ‘Yahoo!’”
Cooper, an outdoor recreation major at Lyndon College in northeast Vermont, is constantly adding to his impressive list of whitewater river runs and waterfall drops. A milestone for him was going over Small’s Falls, a 20-foot drop near Rangely, ME, in April, 2010. “It was my first big drop,” says Cooper. “Before that I’d gone over one that was maybe five feet.” It’s not hard to figure out why Cooper decided to take on that particular challenge. “My folks have a camp in Rangely and we’d driven by those falls hundreds of times.”
In Oct. 2011 Cooper attended “Moose Fest” in the Adirondacks, a well-known annual gathering of whitewater paddlers who converge at Old Forks, NY, to test their skills on the Class IV and V rapids of the Moose River. Cooper, in his Liquid Logic “El Jefe” whitewater boat, was confronted with some of his most challenging conditions yet, plunging through intimidating rock-strewn walls of water deemed to be in whitewater terms, “Class V,” defined as “extremely long, obstructed or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk.” The classification system only goes up to Class VI.
After college, Cooper worked at an auction house and also shipped out as a merchant marine before starting work at Maine Sport. He credits Maine Sport for re-igniting his interest in whitewater paddling, which he had dabbled in during his school years. At Lyndon College he had tried to negotiate Class II and III conditions during a whitewater course. “I flipped all the time. It was pretty overwhelming,” remembers Cooper.
When he started at Maine Sport, he had talked with Watersports Department Manager Cheryl Levin about his whitewater background, and she put Cooper in contact with a cadre of other store employees with similar interests. Cooper was hooked. “Starting to work here was like throwing the match on the burn pile.” Cooper got his feet wet at local whitewater popular spots such as the reversing falls on the Sheepscot River and the St. George River, and went on to paddle ever-more challenging waters in Maine and adjoining states. In his home state, he’s taken on Ripogenous Gorge and the Crib Works on the West Branch of the Penobscot, as well as Gulf Hagas and Moxie Stream. In Jan. 2010, he tackled Class IV and V waters on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
Cooper is also at home in other kinds of kayaks. His first boating experiences were in a sea kayak. As part of his degree program he took part in a sea kayak trip in Florida’s Everglades and loved it so much he volunteered as an assistant on a college trip to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. “I love how independent and self-sufficient you can be in a sea kayak. You can bring everything you need in your boat. I had a smile on my face the whole time I was there,” Cooper says of his Florida adventure.
While Cooper likes to sea kayak and also enjoys occasional canoe ventures, his principal passion remains the adrenaline sport of whitewater paddling. “It definitely charges me up,” says Cooper, who’s always looking for new challenges. “I still have it in me to want to push myself to go bigger and higher. I don’t feel like I’m satisfied just yet.”